Our Dream Town

by Laila Amado

Her body is mangled, broken, dragged through the woods, and dumped on my doorstep. At least, that’s what it looks like.

There is nothing I can do, and if I’m careful, if I avoid looking at the bloody heap on the doormat slowly oozing a puddle of brownish gunk, I might be able to hold myself together and not end up sick like the last time it happened, when she was upset and angry with me for days.

I turn and go into the kitchen, take the plates from the dish rack one by one, sort them according to color in the cupboards. Going through the simple mechanical motions helps me stay grounded, stills my frantically beating heart, stifles the rising panic that one day she won’t be able to mend herself.

I try not to look, but my eyes seem to have developed a will of their own and my gaze keeps drifting to the thing on the threshold—a bundle of bones and dirty rags dragged halfway through the door.

I take a tin jar with coffee beans from the shelf, throw a handful in the grinder, watch the machine whir. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the bloody pile on the floor shift and rearrange itself.

I set the copper cezve on the stove, the one with a long wooden handle cracked along the middle, the one my mother brought with her, when she crossed the ocean. Mother’s voice, matter-of-fact and measured, recites in my head, “Take two teaspoons of coffee, one per each cup, add some boiling water,” and a hand shoots out from the bloodied rags, splays five pale fingers on the floor. One is bent backwards, and it trembles like the unfurling bean stalk in a slow-motion video clip.

Foam rises, and the smell of coffee fills the kitchen. I yank the cezve off the burner before it runs over. The pile draped across the threshold extends, shifts upwards with a moaning sound, contours of a body—a shoulder, a hip—visible through the rags. It unfolds upright, sways, makes a few tentative steps.

I’m pouring coffee into the cheerful painted mugs we bought at the summer fair, when she steps through the door and hugs me from behind. She smells of grass, and morning dew, and upturned earth, but the smell of blood lingers in my nostrils.

*

Two days later, her blouse billows up in the bath tub, quivering like a cupola of a jellyfish. I pull clumps of her hair from the drain and they stick to my fingers like seaweed, covered in slime and rot. I’m dry heaving over the kitchen sink, when she comes down the stairs dressed in a fluffy bathrobe. For the rest of the morning, we pretend that nothing has happened.

*

Next time, it’s by fire. On a bright summer morning, a cloud of soot erupts in my face when I open the oven door, a tray of fresh blueberry scones in my hands. The smell of burning fat is overwhelming. With my eyes shut, I hear her bones cracking open in the heat.

I’m on my third cup of coffee by the time she joins me, and I’m jittery and it’s just too much to handle, and I beg her to stop.

She looks at me, indignant. “I thought you loved the view from the park by the river.”

“I do.”

“And the little coffee shop on Main Street.”

I nod.

“And the brass band concerts and the very helpful librarian at the new cultural center.”

I know where this is going, and I sigh. “We both love this town.”

“Yes, and I serve an important function for its people. Every one of them. The monster needs to die for them to feel safe, and so I do.”

She picks up her handbag and steps out into the gathering dusk. Outside, the wind chases clouds across the sky. I sit by the bedroom window until the horizon grows light against the jagged outline of trees in the park and the milkman’s wagon rattles while taking a sharp turn at the end of the lane. When the front door creaks, I go down into the kitchen and set the cezve on the stove.

Laila Amado is currently marooned on a small island halfway between Africa and Europe. She writes dark fantasy and science fiction stories in her second language, lives in her fourth country, and cooks decent paella. Her stories have appeared in 365 Tomorrows, 101 Fiction, Enchanted Conversation Magazine, Gyroscope Review, and other publications.
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